Everything is Dada at Yale
by Kristin Nord
Nonsense “sound” poetry, nonlinear musical compositions, irony-laden cinematography and the blurring of lines between fine and applied arts were considered highly radical ideas 100 years ago when the Dada movement burst upon the scene.
The movement was in many ways a response to the ravages of World War 1, as an irreverent and anti-hierarchical group of male and female artists sought refuge in the safe haven of neutral Switzerland their ideas began to cross-fertilize. Soon they were mounting dance, music, poetry and puppetry performances at Zurich’s Cabaret Voltaire in shows that were designed “to shock and provoke,” explains Frauke V. Josenhans, the Horace W. Goldsmith Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Yale University Art Gallery and curator of the current retrospective, “Everything is Dada.”
Within short order, as Dadaists returned home, their ideas spread to Berlin, Hanover, Cologne and Paris. Kindred spirits were also experimenting in similar fashion in New York. The time seemed ripe for work that poked its nose at artistic traditions, and sought to reject the moral, political and aesthetic dogmas of the era.
Where exactly did the name “Dada” come from?
Josenhans offers two alternative explanations, though she suggests both may be apocryphal: 1) Artists took a knife to a page in a dictionary and chose the word where the knife landed or 2) It was chosen because “da” translates to “yes,” in Romanian. As it turns out, Dada would remain enigmatic on this and on any number of levels.
“Everything is Dada” offers a stylish exploration of this distinct time, drawing upon the Société Anonyme Collection donated to Yale by Marcel Duchamp and Katherine Dreier in 1941. It’s a wide-ranging collection that seems surprisingly spring-is-here fresh 100 years later. This may also largely be the result of Josenhans’ vision, which sought not only to place Dadaists in context, but also to enlist the gifts of Yale students in art, theater and dance for their ideas on how Dadaists might think and behave in the 21st century.